Middle of the Road

“The middle of the road is all of the usable surface.  The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”  President Dwight Eisenhower. 

Often listed by scholars as a top ten president, and top five in public opinion polls, Dwight Eisenhower does not immediately come to mind as a great president. 

He should.     

Despite public indifference, Eisenhower deployed Army troops to enforce federal desegregation at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  His unflinching, and unprecedented, use of the military underscored a strong commitment to equality.      

He stabilized, and did not escalate, the U.S. – Soviet Union competition, maintained economic prosperity, and famously warned in his farewell address about the “military-industrial complex”.   

People liked “Ike”.  He reached an incredible 70% job approval rating at the start of his second term.  In the history of Gallup presidential approval, Eisenhower enjoyed the highest average at 65%. 

Why?  There are many reasons.  However, Eisenhower’s quote reveals an important one.  While identifying as a Republican, Eisenhower embraced moderate, middle of the road politics.  Shortly after WWII, both parties in fact wanted him to run for president.     

He was the type of leader that people could project their own attitudes onto. 

For example, when asked if Eisenhower was more of a liberal or a conservative, a third of Gallup respondents were uncertain, 41% said conservative, and 26% said liberal. In addition, over half (54%) of self-described liberals thought Eisenhower was liberal. And 71% of self-described conservatives said Eisenhower was a conservative.   

Can you image that today? Progressives identifying Donald Trump as liberal, or conservatives thinking Barack Obama conservative.   It would never happen, neither would 70% job approval. 

In the age of partisan polarization, we expect meager approval ratings and strong partisan rhetoric.  The political class demands conflict, encourages polarization, and prefers to campaign against the opposition than to negotiate a middle way. 

Eisenhower represented the middle way.  The public followed.         

One thought on “Middle of the Road

  1. I remember Ike. My father a solid Republican was impressed with his opposing candidate Stevenson – a strong persuasive speaker. He never had a chance. Every Sunday the television played war features and Eisenhower moderated each. He became more personal and real. He worked for both Roosevelt n Truman Democrats.
    I agree he was a great President n definitely a moderate. It helped that he was a major player in the war.


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